The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a wonderful story about culture shock and broadening horizons in the greying years of life. The film showcases the colour and sheer bustle and hugely populated streets of India. It’s lively and humourous, and makes you think.
When things don’t work out as planned, or when loose ends need to be tied, a group of – strangers, including a loveless married couple – find themselves on the same journey to India, to spend some time in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a hotel exclusively for “the elderly and beautiful”. The image of the characters at the airport, not knowing what they were in for, was a classic.
When they finally arrived at the hotel – a journey on a cramped bus, then on tuk-tuks, the hotel was not what they expected. Marigold Hotel is ramshackle – think Faulty Towers, yet Sonny, its optimistic manager, played by Dev Patel, sells its shortcomings with laughable exuberance and exaggeration.
For some, retirement is not as planned. The Ashbys (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) have lost their life savings in an investment gone wrong, unable to afford their dream retirement home. Mrs Greenslade (played by Dame Judi Dench) is a recent widow finding herself living independently and making her own choices for the first time in 40 years. Mrs Donnelly (played by Dame Maggie Smith), racist and set in her English ways (she won’t eat anything she cannot pronounce) found herself in India to receive a cheap and speedy hip replacement. And Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is searching for a long lost love he was forced to give up 40 years ago.
Mrs Donnelly, incredibly racist, often offending the Indian staff who care for her, softens when she realises her carer is in fact just like her. She used to be a housekeeper until she was no longer needed by the family she worked for. It was interesting to see her soften as she saw herself in her Indian carer.
I have a confession. Bill Nighy is my old man crush. He was gorgeous in this movie – patient, caring and so loyal – to a wife who didn’t treat him well. He was enthusiastic about everything on offer in India. And so quietly reflective. I’d have him.
Marigold Hotel shows touching and heartfelt stories – a gay relationship amid a culture clash, which imprisons the unexpected; the realisation a marriage is over and also the opening to a new romance, an interesting (and very valid) new job, and tolerance developed late in life. It has a stellar cast of powerful actors.
I loved how Evelyn, Dench’s character put herself completely out of her comfort zone (as they all did) to work for the first time in her life, in a call centre, as a cultural adviser, teaching the call centre operatives how to build rapport with their western clients.
I also loved the optimism of the Indian people in the movie. Despite the poverty, the expectation of arranged marriages and the potential failure of Sonny’s hotel, there was so much sunshine on the horizon. There was a line that resonated with me. Sonny said, a few times, “everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” So true.
My parents and I saw the film together. We all left smiling, and Dad told me he had seen Judi Dench perform at Nottingham Playhouse in 1965. Two degrees of separation!